Don’t Let That Chicken Make You Sick

Chicken purchased at the grocery store often contains harmful bacteria that can make you sick. Here’s how to protect yourself.

If you love chicken — and it is America’s favorite meat — this is probably news you don’t want to see.

Consumer Reports purchased 316 raw chicken breasts from grocery stores in 26 states and tested them for six strains of bacteria. They discovered that 97 percent of the samples contained some form of bacteria that can lead to illness.

Here are some other startling statistics from CR’s study:

  • 79.8 percent contained enterococcus, which indicates fecal contamination.
  • 65.2 percent contained E. coli, which also indicates fecal contamination.
  • 43 percent contained campylobacter, a contaminant that causes diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever.
  • 13.6 percent contained klebsiella pneumoniae, which can lead to a respiratory illness.
  • 10.8 percent contained salmonella.
  • 9.2 percent contained staphylococcus aureus, a contaminant that can cause infection when introduced to broken skin.
  • 49.7 percent of the samples displayed traces of a multidrug-resistant bacterium.

The study said there was “no significant difference in the average number of types of bacteria between conventional samples and those labeled no antibiotics or organic.”

On the same day that report came out this week, the Pew Charitable Trusts issued its own report about two salmonella outbreaks linked to Foster Farms chicken. Says the Los Angeles Times:

At the core of both findings are calls to strengthen government oversight in the $70 billion poultry industry. Doing so would help reduce incidents of food-borne illness, which sickens 48 million people and kills 3,000 in the U.S every year.

“When more than 500 people get sick from two outbreaks associated with chicken that meets federal safety standards, it is clear that those standards are not effectively protecting public health,” Sandra Eskin, director of Pew’s food safety project, said in a statement.

The government is already taking some steps. Says the LA Times, “Coincidentally, the two studies arrive the same month the federal government outlined major new policies to tackle salmonella in poultry and address the over-use of antibiotics in raising meat.” Check out the story for more details.

How can you protect yourself from bacteria on raw chicken? Consumer Reports suggests that you:

  • Save the chicken for last when you’re shopping at the grocery store, and place it in a plastic bag.
  • Use a cutting board to prevent cross contamination and clean thoroughly afterward.
  • Thoroughly wash the chicken before cooking it.
  • Always wash your hands after handling raw poultry.
  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of cooked chicken reaches 165 degrees F.

Were you aware of the dangers posed by chicken? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • Angela Ehrhart Locke

    I read recently that you should NOT wash chicken because it just splashes the bacteria all over the sink/counter, etc Whick is correct?

  • RxTim

    EXACTLY Angela. I USED to wash the boneless, skinless chicken breasts that I purchase already wrapped in plastic. Then I read where washing them before cooking would do exactly what you said, spread bacteria around. So they go from fridge, out of plastic, to plate—then directly into frying pan—then hands are washed. I don’t ever use a cutting board.

  • arlene

    I have always washed all my meats,

    veggies and fruits my Hubby says

    bathing a Turkey is just insane

    well sorry but I have seen a Man

    at the Butcher shop pick his nose

    wipe it on his pants then continue

    to cut meat. So to not cause a

    scene I wrote a note to the Meat

    Manager an gave it to a friend of

    mine (cashier) to give to the

    Manager I am now 59 that was 10

    years ago. I have worked in Food

    Factories all my life so I have

    canned a lot of my own stuff. My

    Hubby has always work on the Kill

    floor so he always brought home

    the Meat our family consumed. Just

    not Chicken or Turkey which when

    we could we bought from friends

    who raised them. Advice always use

    caution with all FOOD. Sorry to


  • Bob K

    Chickens are dirty birds. They defecate on the ground and then literally roll around in the dirt. It is impossible to prevent contamination. Make sure they are well cooked and use a bleach based sanitizer to clean up after cutting/cleaning the chicken. Always cook them well.

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